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What’s the secret to making good gravy?

You might want to ask Albert Nielsen.

For years, the Fremont man has been whipping up gravy for a crowd — namely folks who attend the local Thanksgiving Day meal.

Area residents are invited to the meal that’s been a tradition since 1985.

The 33rd Annual Fremont Community Thanksgiving Dinner is set from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day in the Midland University Dining Hall.

Admission is free with donations accepted. The meal is available to anyone regardless of income.

No meal deliveries will be made this year.

About 1,000 people attend the event in the dining hall and approximately 100 volunteers help throughout the day, cutting pies, serving food, helping in the kitchen, cleaning up and doing dishes, said Pam Nielsen, co-coordinator.

Anyone can volunteer to help.

“We never turn volunteers away,” she said.

Boys in the local wrestling club help clean tables, carry trays for the elderly and take coffee and other non-alcoholic drinks to diners.

About 20 members participate.

Pam Nielsen has participated in the event for the last 27 years.

“I started as delivery, because my husband was a fireman at the time and he was on duty that Thanksgiving and so I volunteered,” she said. “It felt so good that day that I got him involved the next year. We did our deliveries and came back to get more to deliver.

“They didn’t have any more to deliver and so they put us to work in the kitchen and we’ve been doing the kitchen duties ever since.”

The two have been coordinators for about seven years.

And Albert uses his culinary skills to make gravy for the mashed potatoes.

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“His forte is gravy,” Pam Nielsen said. “That’s his job. He makes the gravy. He puts a lot of love in it and he does a fine job, because we get lots of compliments on it. It’s not mix gravy — it’s ‘from scratch’ gravy.”

The meal includes the traditional T-day fixings of: turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing, a vegetable, rolls, pie and a beverage. There also will be Watergate salad.

Nielsen believes area residents benefit by attending the event.

“It helps bring people together from all walks of life — from the poorest of poor to somebody who can afford to have dinner,” she said of camaraderie that develops at the meal. “You get to know your neighbors. It’s a nice social event.”

Nielsen appreciates the fellowship aspect of the meal.

“I know there’s people who can go somewhere to have dinner, but if they don’t have anywhere to go, it’s a great place to come,” Nielsen said. “And that’s what it was started for — some people didn’t have a place to go and a lady decided she was going to have them over — and it’s grown to this, which is great.”

Fremonter Virginia Anderson started the Thanksgiving Day dinner in 1985 for people who otherwise would have spent the day alone.

That meal took place in Fremont City Auditorium.

About three years later, Anderson had to quit due to health reasons and figured the dinner would need to be cancelled.

The late Nick Hermann, a restaurateur, brought the situation to the attention of the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church parish council.

The council agreed to be supportive. Food was cooked in the old St. Pat’s gym kitchen and transported to the city auditorium.

Eventually, the dinner was moved to Midland.

Diners have expressed gratitude for the meal.

“I’m usually in the kitchen,” Pam Nielsen said. “But I usually try and get out in the dining room and I have people thank me, saying, ‘Thank you, you do such a great job with this. Keep it up.’”

Nielsen appreciates the compliments.

“It makes you feel good,” she said. “It gives you a warm and cuddly feeling all over.”

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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